History of the Jews in Uruguay

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The history of the Jews in Uruguay dates back to colonial times. Nevertheless, the most important influx of Jewish population was during the 20th century, due to the wars in Europe. The Jewish community in Uruguay is composed mostly of Ashkenazim.


The arrival of Jews to the Banda Oriental goes back to the 16th century, when conversos are believed to have begun settling there. The Spanish Inquisition was not a significant force in the territory, and the first recorded Jewish settlement there was in the 1770s. When the Inquisition ended in 1813, it paved the way for Jews being more accepted there throughout the 19th century.

Significant Jewish immigration began in the late 19th century, when Jews from neighboring Brazil and Argentina wandered into the area and settled there. Most of them were Sephardim and Mizrahim. The largest Jewish population was in Montevideo, which had 150 Jews in 1909. The first recorded minyan in Uruguay happened in 1912, and the first synagogue was opened in 1917 by the small Ashkanazi community. From then on, most Jewish immigrants to Uruguay were Ashkenazim. Jewish schools were opened in the 1920s, and in 1929, the Ashkenazi community set up an educational network.

The majority of Jewish immigration to Uruguay took place in the 1920s and 1930s. A large percentage of Jewish immigrants during this period were German Jews; there were also some Italian Jews arriving.[1] Many of these immigrants were secular leftists who dissociated themselves from the Jewish community. During this period, Uruguay also served as a temporary stop for Jewish immigrants on the way to Brazil and Argentina. There were significant Fascist and liberal elements that opposed all foreign immigration, but targeted specifically Jewish immigration. Harsh immigration quotas were imposed immediately prior to World War II, but Jews used Uruguay as a transit point to other countries.

Uruguayan Jews initially made a living in small retail trade and peddling, with some becoming craftsmen and artisans. In time, they moved up the economic scale, and many became the owners of large stores or medium-sized businesses. Following World War II, Jews increased their representation in the professional world and became primarily middle-class, particularly as many Uruguayan Jews were by then second or third-generation Uruguayans. Their economic advancement was aided by the creation of Jewish loan and assistance funds, which evolved into Jewish banks. From the 1930s to about 1950, there were several failed attempts to establish a Jewish agricultural settlement.

During the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent 1948 Arab-Israeli War, which involved the mass exodus of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, primarily to Israel, more than 18,000 Jews immigrated to Uruguay, primarily from the Arab world and Rhodes. In the 1950s, a number of Hungarian Jews moved to Uruguay.

Uruguay, which had supported the creation of a Jewish homeland during the 1920 San Remo conference, was one of the first nations to recognize Israel, and the first Latin American country to do so. It was the first Latin American country and fourth country overall in which Israel established a diplomatic mission. It was also one of the few nations to support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and oppose internationalization of the city. Its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem was upgraded to the status of an embassy in 1958, but subsequently downgraded to the status of consulate due to Arab pressure.

In the 1960s, there were sporadic outbursts of antisemitism among nationalist and Neo-Nazi organizations, many of them originating in neighboring Argentina. In 1961, during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, serious antisemitic disturbances were provoked by Nazi groups. Throughout the 20th century, antisemitism tended to follow economic trends, and increase when the economy was in crisis.

The community experienced a serious decline in the 1970s as a result of emigration. By the mid-1990s, there were no Jews in the upper echelons or military, and little Jewish representation in the legislature. The Latin American economic crisis of the 1990s and early 2000s had a painful impact on the 40,000 Jews still in Uruguay. Between 1998 and 2003, more than half of them emigrated, mostly to Israel, to find better opportunities.

Currently, 20,000-25,000 Jews live in Uruguay, with 95% residing in Montevideo. There is a small organized community in Paysandú, while other Jews are scattered throughout the country's interior. Some 75% are Ashkenazi and 11% Sephardi. As of 2003, there were 20 synagogues, but only six of them held weekly Shabbat services, and one functioned every day. There is a high rate of intermarriage and assimilation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Italian Jews in Uruguay". Brecha. 14 March 2014.  (Spanish)

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